Ulster County’s next executive could come into office flying into financial headwinds, according to a memo from the county’s budget director. The memo from Burton Gulnick Jr. to Acting County Executive Adele Reiter outlines a series of challenges, including lower-than-expected sales tax revenue, a $1 million shortfall in jail boarding fees and $200,000 in unexpected costs associated with the April 30 special election for county executive.
Gulnick’s memo referenced several troubling changes to the county budget’s projections , including a 2.5 percent decline in sales tax revenue in January compared to January 2018. Gulnick wrote that the county had already depleted funds set aside for snow removal in the 2019 spending plan and would have to pick up the $200,000 for the April 30 election that wasn’t included in the budget.
Gulnick also cited the projected shortfall of nearly $1 million in jail boarding fees over the figure contained in the budget and a cost shift of $665,000 from the state to the county to cover aid to municipalities. Further, Gulnick’s memo laid out a series of fiscal challenges facing the county heading into the 2020 budget season, including negotiating — and paying for — new contracts with four unions representing county employees.
“These issues and challenges we face today are many of the same or similar issues which we have addressed in the past,” wrote Gulnick in the memo. “We have been successful in surmounting these challenges because we have worked to identify challenges early. By doing so, we can make careful and concrete adjustments to our fiscal plan.”
Gulnick’s memo concludes with a series of recommendations, including calls for an “aggressive” review of requests to fill vacancies in the county workforce and more careful monitoring of all grants to ensure that departments receive all funds due them. In an April 10 memo to all countywide elected officials, Reiter called on officials to exercise “strong fiscal discipline” and to work with Gulnick to implement the recommendations contained in the memo. Reiter did not return a call for comment.
Many of the challenges we face are similar to those we have faced in past fiscal years,” Reiter wrote in her April 10 memo. “And so, I am confident that with proper steps we can overcome them, as we have before.”
The political angle
Gulnick’s memo comes two weeks before a special election to determine who will hold the county executive’s seat for the remainder of 2019. Democrat Pat Ryan is facing Conservative Party Chairman Jack Hayes, running on the GOP line, in the April 30 election.
Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III said that he believed there was a political motive behind the memo. Quigley, who has a background in accounting, said he found a number of flaws in Gulnick’s memo, including a failure to mention that the cost shift in aid to municipalities was offset by a new county revenue stream in the form of internet sales taxes. Quigley added that he believed that January, which saw a number of major snowstorms that likely kept shoppers home, was a poor base to predict sales tax trends through the year.
“Everything he sets out in that memo is financially imprudent,” said Quigley. “He says the county has faced these kinds of difficulties before, but they’ve never brought this level of attention to it until now, two weeks before an election.”